While enduring numerous layovers at airports a few weeks ago, I entertained myself in the bookstores. I found a book called "Freakonomics" in Manchester and began to read a chapter on the economics of first names. I continued to read this in Newark and Houston. (I didn't buy it because I was already carrying two volumes of Harry Potter). I found it fascinating for all sorts of reasons but mostly because some of the top boy and girl names for low-income families feature in my family.
We have a Ricky (no.1 for boys in white low-income families). We have an Amber (very bad girl, she is) and a Brittani (she of the alcoholic, drug-addicted mother and daughter of Ricky). We have a Meaghan (with another alcoholic, drug-addicted mother). What we don't have are any of the top boy and girl names for high-income families. And you know what? I'm glad because those names suck bigtime.
I don't know if the Brittani and Meaghan in our family, who are still children, will break out of the low-income stigma attached to their names. I hope so because those children actually have had to put up with a lot because of their parents' various addictions. They are in better places now with other family members who care for them.
But back to the names. "Freakonomics" maintains that you can also tell a person's race by their name. But I think that only works in America. Certain names in the US that might be used by one race are used by another in the UK, I've found. Also, you can probably tell the age of the parents and who is a pop idol at the time of a child's birth. You don't meet any 4-year-old Mildreds, do you. Yet some old-fashioned names are making a comeback. Ruby, for instance. My name, so unique when I was growing up, is now a top girl name for low-income families in the UK. So what does that tell you?
While visiting the Little Bighorn Memorial, I was particularly interested in some of the Indian names: Bad Fair Hair, Bloody Knife, Crazy Horse, Lame White Man, Dog's Back Bone, Two Moons, and Noisy Walking, to name a few. So descriptive and evocative. Would Sitting Bull have had a different life as Noisy Walking, or vice-versa?
You can probably tell more about a person's parents from a name than about that person. The "Freakonomics" author gave one example of not judging a book by its cover. He wrote about two men, one from an upper-middle-class background where education was revered, the other from a low-income family in Los Angeles. One became a celebrated author and professor. The other became the Unabomber. Guess which one.